Lawmakers were shuttled by military escort to an offsite meeting Tuesday with Kansas Homeland Security, fueling speculation and tension for what turned out to be a routine security briefing.
House members were dispatched in two shifts, Democrats separate from Republicans, to Forbes Field, which is headquarters for the 190th Air Refueling Wing of the Kansas National Guard. Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the Kansas Guard's adjutant general, delivered the clandestine briefing on the security of the state and issues lawmakers may encounter in their official duties.
Tafanelli's office issued a statement saying the briefing was done at the request of Gov. Laura Kelly.
"Understanding the nature of these issues will increase awareness and prevent potential security missteps," the statement said.
Senators were expected to receive the same briefing next week. Attendance is voluntary, legislators said.
Rep. Brett Parker, a Democrat from Overland Park, said there was no specific threat and that information covered a "fairly broad" range of topics. He said there was "a lot of energy" around the briefing before lawmakers were bused from the Statehouse because they didn't know what to expect.
"People just weren't exactly sure what topic would be covered or what it would be about," Parker said. "There was a lot of speculation, and in the end, it wasn't anything terribly exciting."
Parker said 90% of the briefing "could have been covered in an email."
"It didn't feel like the best use of two hours of my day, but that's not to say it wasn't relevant," Parker said.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said Tafanelli and the attorney general's office approached him multiple times to request the participation of legislators in the security meeting. In an interview before leaving for the briefing, Ryckman said he wasn't sure what topics would be covered.
"We were asked by the attorney general to have this meeting," Ryckman said. "He said it was a security issue, and so we're going to go."
Ryckman expressed concerns about the privacy surrounding the meeting, which was closed to lawmakers' staff members and news media.
Deputy attorney general Jay Emler, a former state senator, sent Ryckman a letter dated Tuesday that cast the briefing as a serious security matter.
"The closed session will include information applicable to the security of the state and its citizens which if disclosed would have a negative impact on the ability to protect related security interests," Emler's letter said. "The intent of the meeting is to educate legislators on issues that they may encounter in the course of their official duties. Understanding the nature of these issues will increase awareness and prevent potential security missteps. Failure to conduct the meeting in a closed session would reduce the efficacy of the suggested best practices."
After the meeting, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a Democrat from Overland Park, described it as a routine security briefing.
"It was nice to tour the facility," she said, "but somewhat anticlimactic, given the buildup."
Rep. Jason Probst, a Democrat from Hutchinson, said there no need for alarm.
"It felt like a routine warning to be smart and careful when using online communication," Probst said.